Matt Campbell, who was named interim artistic director of the Denver Film Festival after the death of his predecessor, Brit Withey, earlier this year, is our guide to the cinematic event's 42nd edition, which continues through November 10. Campbell has chosen a must-see film for each day of the fest. Keep reading to get his takes on selections for November 8-10: Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, M and Kabul, City in the Wind.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway
Directed by Miguel Llansó
Friday, November 8, 9 p.m., UA Pavilions
Saturday, November 9, 9 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
"It's Friday night, so let's do a fun one — a late-night one," says Matt Campbell.
His selection, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, is "an off-the wall film," he continues. "Its director, Miguel Llansó, had a previous film in the festival called Crumbs, which is an Ethiopian-set sci-fi film, and that movie's lead [Daniel Tadesse] is also the lead actor in this film. He's an Ethiopian little person who has a hunchback, but in this film, he plays a CIA agent."
Here's the trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway.
The agent and his partner soon enter what Campbell describes as "this kind of Matrix, virtual-reality world to catch a killer. But it's also about the agent being obsessed with margherita pizza and wanting to open up a pizza stand. And there's also a very large Scandinavian woman who wants to open up a kickboxing academy."
As these elements make clear, "the film's humor is bizarre, but it's really a lot of fun. I laughed out loud multiple times while watching it by myself, and I'll bet there'll be an ever greater physical reaction with a crowd. This really is a cult classic waiting to happen."
Directed by Yolande Zauberman
Saturday, November 9, 6:15 p.m., UA Pavilions
The contrast between Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway and M couldn't be more stark. Campbell shorthands the latter, which shares its title but little else with a famous 1931 Fritz Lang production, as "an Israeli-based documentary about the most ultra-orthodox Hasidic community within Tel Aviv and the rampant problem of child sexual abuse among the rabbis."
Yolande Zauberman's film follows M, aka Menahem Lang, who Campbell says is "a man who was part of this community growing up, and a survivor of it. He was a victim of these assaults, and he left — and he's no longer practicing religion. But he comes back to the community to confront it, but also to bring awareness, to have conversations — to talk about not just the abuse, but also sex and sexuality in general."
See the trailer for M below:
The conversations M shares with current members of the community show "how shockingly ignorant most of these men are," Campbell allows. "And it is their lack of knowledge, which allows this abuse, that really drew me to the film."
Campbell and the late Brit Withey watched M last year and were hoping to include it in the 2018 festival. A series of unforeseen circumstances prevented that from happening. But now, a year later, M will receive its U.S. premier during the 2019 extravaganza, and Campbell couldn't be happier.
"I was just blown away by it," he says. "The film is all shot at night, so it has a very nightmarish quality, a kind of fever-dream aspect to it. And the things we learn about this community are fascinating. There are roaming sects and different orders who are identified by different hats. It's almost like a gang culture."
He sees M as radical because of "the way it seems to go beyond the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. This is a female filmmaker going into a very male-dominated community where it seems like the guard rails have been taken off. When I watched it, I didn't know anything about it, and my jaw was agape the entire time. Experiencing the film, I was like, 'Holy crap. This is insane.'"
Kabul, City in the Wind
Directed by Aboozar Amini
Sunday, November 10, 4:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
Pinning down a single choice to tout for the festival's final day was very difficult for Campbell. "You have Terrence Malick's new film [A Hidden Life] and A Woman Under the Influence," a 1974 John Cassavetes scorcher Withey loved, "which we put back-to-back. We thought that would be a great way to end the festival, and if you haven't seen A Woman Under the Influence, I would definitely recommend it."
For those who've already experienced Gena Rowland's volcanic turn in Woman, however, Campbell suggests Kabul, City in the Wind, "a beautifully shot documentary about Afghanistan that's not what you think it's going to be, because it's not focusing on war-torn fighting. Naturally, that's there in the background. But the film is about a lot more."
Gaze upon the trailer for Kabul, City in the Wind here:
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Two subjects stand at the center of the doc, Campbell notes — "a young boy and his brother. Their father has left for an extended period of time, so it's just the two of them and their mom, wandering the streets of Kabul."
An ancillary plot line involves "a bus driver who lives a simple life but is not the most happy person. He spends a lot of time in opium dens."
The film's style is "very cinéma vérité," Campbell confirms. "It immerses you in the city of Kabul in the tradition of old cityscape travelogues. I haven't seen a film look at this part of the world in this kind of wonderful, childlike way. You realize, 'This is a community, People live here.' In America, we tend to focus only on how Afghanistan affects us, but these people are living lives that have nothing to do with that. This is their home, and that message is sent in a really beautiful, awe-inspiring way."